Why I Don’t Believe the God of the Bible Exists

I don’t believe the God described in the Christian Bible exists.  I used to, truly I did.  At one point I was thoroughly convinced. Now, after more study, I think I was not justified in my belief.  That god just doesn’t stand up to an even look at the evidence.  Please notice that I’m talking about the God of the Christian Bible.  Not a vague “unmoved mover” or other concept that some like to call God.

Factual Claims of the Bible Refuted by Evidence

The Christian Bible makes specific factual claims.  Some of those claims have been refuted by what we humans have found in evidence in the sky and in the earth.  This includes the stories of creation, a global flood, and other events and historical facts.  The evidence shows that these things did not happen as described.

The responses of people who believe in the God described seem to follow certain patterns. One response is to claim that they are backed up by evidence, either by cherry picking certain portions of a story (evidence seems to show that the universe had a start, so that means the creation story is correct) or by ignoring contradictory evidence (young earth creationism at its finest).  Another response is to claim that the stories provided are just stories, and are not intended to really describe what happened.  Fine, then why should I believe in other portions of the book if these parts are just made up or exaggerated stories?

Shrinking Power and Influence of the Christian God

In fact, it appears to me that the god described seems to be shrinking in ability to influence the earth.  In the beginning he was the powerful creator of the universe.  Able to shoot fire beams down from the sky and vaporize rocks, feed whole groups of people for years at a time, strike whole armies blind, kill thousands at a time, and demolish whole cities in miraculous events.

Later, in the New Testament, his powers seem to have shrunk to healing some individuals and raising a few from the dead, along with the ability to calm storms, feed smaller groups of people for an afternoon, kill trees by words, and smite only a person or two.  Great things are still promised in the future, of course, like demolishing the entire universe, but not actually yet performed.

Flash to the present day, and his powers seem to be reduced to (maybe) slightly altering the probability of events, though when tested this can never seem to be verified.  Between this, giving people internal feelings of conviction, and appearing in pieces of toast, the power of god definitely appears to have shrunk.

No Evidence of the Supernatural

And really, this is just part of the general trend of the supernatural being put of of business.  Diseases which were previously said to be caused by demons are now understood to have other causes.  Despite all the opportunities, there has been no credible evidence of ghosts, angels, demons, werewolves, dragons, unicorns, leprechauns, or other magical creatures.

Other signs point to the fact that we are just natural beings, with no supernatural component.  Our consciousness seems to be wrapped up in our brains, not in some eternal soul stapled on.  Changes to our physical brains can change our personalities and moral decision making.  Why would we think that our personalities would survive the complete destruction of our bodies when it can’t even handle smaller insults like magnetic fields?

Open to Evidence

I just no longer see any good reason to think that God as described in the Christian Bible exists, or ever did exist.  But I’ve been wrong before, so as with everything else I’ll remain willing to change my mind. Any suggestions on things I should consider?  If you believe that this particular god exists, why?  What would make you question your conclusion?

 

Broken People, Broken World

Broken?

A good friend of mine is the youth pastor at a church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The last time I talked to him I was giving him some flak, and he suggested that I watch some of his sermons.  I watched the only sermon of his which appears to be available, and I have a conflict with his central theme.  The sermon is about the bad news of Christianity. To quote him, “You are broken, and you live in a broken world.”  To see this sermon for yourself, go to the video link below.  I’d recommend skipping to 37:00 unless you need a cure for your insomnia.

http://vimeo.com/80497008

Is this true?  Are we broken people in a broken world?  Broken means having been fractured or damaged and no longer in one piece or in working order. (Google)  The Christian Bible teaches that God created a perfect world, but humans came along and screwed it up.  But God is so loving that he sent his only son, who is also himself, to die temporarily so that we could get back on the straight and narrow and eventually get back to perfection.

Being broken and needing to be fixed is at the center of some of the strange things that Christians do, such as Ken Ham’s insistence on Creationism.  Ken says that if the creation account is wrong, then there was never a fall, and so there is nothing to be redeemed and no reason for Jesus to have been on earth.  Since he is convinced that Jesus came to redeem us all, then he has find a way to make that fall happen.  From  the need to show how we are broken flows his Creationism models of the universe.

The evidence, however, is that the world was never in a perfect state from which we fell due to the actions of humans.  The world was not cursed and broken because of us, but rather we are a new addition to the world. The universe has been around for a long time.  Even in our little corner, things have been proceeding just fine without us for a very long time.  We are recent arrivals, apes whose brains have grown complicated enough that they have become self-aware.  There was never a perfect world that was broken.  Rather we are just the latest round in a continuing arms race for resources.

So I take issue with the idea that we are broken people in a broken world.  There was no ideal world from which we are fallen.  Instead we humans with our evolved brains can imagine an ideal world where we would like to be. Christianity has it backwards. They think of us as broken and needing someone to save us.  Instead, it is up to us to decide where we want we want the world to be, and to take the actions needed to get us there.

Halted Evolution in Monkey Town

Halted Evolution in Monkey Town

I recently read Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions by Rachel Held Evans. I’ll admit I’m slow, as this came out years ago. When I read the blurb, I was intrigued. The book is Rachel’s story about her trials in trying to find out if what she has been raised to believe is true. As you might imagine, that was something that sounded interesting to me.

Rachel grew up in Dayton, Tennessee, the home of the famous Scopes Monkey trial. Despite growing up in a Christian home with a theologian father, and attending a Christian university, she eventually started asking questions that Christians are not supposed to. Why is there evil? Why does the Bible say that most people will be tortured forever? Is the Bible really inerrant? Can someone live by the teachings of the Bible?

I admit, I was sucked in. During her journey, Rachel passed many of the same milestones I had. She talked about learning about the history of the Bible. She learning about other cultures and met people who didn’t match what she had been taught. She learned about what science has found out (and can prove) about the world and its history and mechanisms. I thought I had found a kindred spirit. I loved learning about Rachel’s journey into questioning, and I couldn’t wait to hear where it ended.

Then came a turn. In her book, Rachel describes a conversation with her theologian father. After unloading her very good questions, Rachel apparently came to the line she would refuse to cross. She questioned aloud if God is real. She writes with deep emotion about the shocked and hurt look on her father’s face. This was a turning point for Rachel, as after this her tone changes considerably.

After this conversation we are given the story of her reading late one night in Revelations. She had of course read it many times before. This time, however, she decides that the diverse multitudes described in the book are people from all religions and cultures, which will somehow be saved instead of being sent to hell. Rachel decides to carve her own liberal Christianity by extracting whatever she doesn’t agree with out, and deciding that the majority of humanity will not be punished for being human. Her quest for truth stops short and she decides that if Christianity doesn’t make sense, then it just needs to be changed into something that does. Any teaching or dogma can be rejected. Her plan is clear, and she even explicitly states later in the book that questioning things is great, EXCEPT questioning the existence of God is a vice.

Why Rachel? Because it could hurt your dad’s feelings to know that you don’t believe? So you will propagate beliefs that don’t stand up to scrutiny? I’m disappointed, Rachel. In your book you state that kids grow up when they learn that they can hurt their parents. I put forth that instead kids grow up when they realize that their parents can be wrong.

It’s time to finish growing up, Rachel.

Sin Isn’t the Problem, Thinking Sin Exists is a Problem

Sin Isn't the Problem, Thinking Sin Exists is a Problem

Sin is defined as “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.”   The concept of sin is that something you do is against the rules set up by some supreme being.  Of course this brings in Euthyphro’s dilemma. Are these sins bad in the first place and that’s why a god has made rules against them, or are they just bad because the god in question says so?  If they are bad in the first place, why do we need god to tell us that?  If they are only bad because he says so, then why do I have to listen to him?

The mistaken idea that sin is a real thing is the source of many problems.  Let’s think about how this works using the example of homosexuality.

People use sin as a reason for inserting themselves in places they don’t belong.  Why in the world would you think that they have a right to control what other people do?  As long as they are not hurting you or hurting someone who can’t defend themselves how do you think you are involved?  If what they are doing makes them happy why do you say it’s bad?

Why because it’s a sin, of course!  God knows what you are doing and doesn’t like it. Of course, he is supposed to be all powerful, but somehow he still needs me to enforce his laws.

People also use sin as a crutch to not decide for themselves what is right and wrong.  Why is homosexuality a sin?  Because god says so!

I wish I could say that people who believe in sin were just being lazy.  But the truth is that some of them work very hard.  For example, those that understand that there is no reason to stop an activity if no one is hurt by it try very hard to make is sound like someone is harmed by homosexual behavior.  After, all, obviously someone is hurt or it wouldn’t be a sin right? God must have a reason for whatever he does, right?  So these people will jump on stories they have heard that or lies that they have been told that homosexuality causes damage to people body or that it necessarily leads to sexually transmitted diseases or drug use.  They commit the classic fallacy of trying to find evidence to support their conclusion instead of building a conclusion on the evidence.

Humans have relied for too long on what we have been told are divine laws.  We need to work on finding out for ourselves what is right and what is wrong and how we are going to get along.  It won’t be easy to get people to agree, and declaring yourself (or your god) correct by fiat is not going to cut it.  After all, we don’t all even believe that your particular god exists.

Believe in God, because the Alternative is Scary

Believe in God, because the Alternative is Scary

I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of rebuttals to atheist books. One theme that occurs over and over is that atheism cannot be true, because if it is then it means that all sorts of bad things are true.

They say that if there is no god then when we die that we are just dead forever. If there is no god then we don’t have anyone to tell us what is right and wrong. Different people can have different opinions and both be right. If there is no god then he hasn’t told us what to do with our lives and so we have no reason to do anything and will just collapse into a pit of despair.

Since we don’t want any of these things to be true, then we must believe that there is a god, right?

I think this is a horrible argument. There are so many holes in it, that it’s hard to know where to start the rebuttal. I’ll start with the fact that you can’t really choose what you believe. Let’s say that you wanted to believe in Santa Claus again. Could you really convince yourself that he really exists? What if I promised that you would get presents from him if you really believe? I don’t think I could.

Second, just because something is scary, doesn’t mean its not true. You mean we might have to fight to justify and convince others of our beliefs and not just automatically assume that we are right because we have an all powerful being on our side? You mean that I can’t just find out what my purpose is in life from someone else? You mean that I’m going to die forever? These things can be intimidating, but that doesn’t mean they are not true. We can’t change whether they are true or not by wishing. I can’t just believe that my bank account is flush with cash and so my car payment check will clear. It either is or it isn’t. And if you are going to be a grownup you need to figure out which it is.

Lastly, these things are not really that scary. There are plenty of atheists living fulfilled lives even though they don’t have a god to tell them what they have to do. Yes, they believe that they are going to die forever, but they still get up in the morning. Accepting things as they are brings freedom and responsibility. Freedom because you can choose what you are going to do with your life. Responsibility because you know that there isn’t any god to make things right in the end. Instead humans have to do the best we can.

Don’t be scared. Grow up and stop believing in this because you are afraid of the alternatives.

Atheism isn’t an Explanation of the Universe

Atheism isn’t an Explanation of the Universe

I’ve been listening to a lot of arguments against atheism for for religion and christianity. One refrain that I hear over and over again is that the atheistic world view is bankrupt.  If you believe it you believe that you have no purpose and that you are all random particles and will grow depressed and die.

There are a lot of things wrong with this, but I want to stick with just one facet.  Atheism is not an explanation of how the universe came to exist.  Or how humans came to exist.  Atheism doesn’t require the belief that there was a big bang at the beginning of the universe.  It doesn’t require that you have a good understanding of the latest scientific advances (though I’m sure this helps). 

Atheism simply means that I don’t believe you when you say your god is the explanation for it all.

Creationism is the Opposite of Science

Creationism is the Opposite of Science

Creationists and Young Earthers like to say that their point of view is just as valid as the scientific point of view. They state that science and creationism both have their starting assumptions, and that evidence is viewed through these assumptions leading to different conclusions. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what science is.

The word “science” through history has been used for different things. It is sometimes used to refer to the scientific method of thought and experimentation, and sometimes to the collective knowledge gained through the application of the scientific method.

Science, by definition, does not and never did start with a theory and set out to prove it as creationism does. In fact it does the exact opposite. It starts out with an idea about how something works and sets out trying to disprove it. The greatest scientists are those who prove grand ideas wrong. For example, Einstein wasn’t celebrated for coming up with a new theory, he was celebrated for coming up with an alternative to Newtonian physics in a way that could be tested. When the test results came back showing things Newton didn’t account for (gravitational lensing) science celebrated Einstein for breaking a new frontier.

This is why a lot of scientists have a short temper with creationists. Creationists come around and say they have the answer for how everything started, and regardless of what you do, you can’t prove them wrong. Something doesn’t match the theory? Then God changed the rules at some point and that’s why it doesn’t match. Creationism has endlessly movable goalposts.

The sad thing is that creationism and other forms of magical thinking are truly a threat to our existence and way of life. We now live on a planet with so many people, interconnected so fully, that if the web of infrastructure we have built would collapse it would lead to astounding devastation. What keeps us away from that precipice is the fact that we humans are getting progressively better at understanding our universe. We learn how things work and get them to work better. We find new ways to make lives across the planet better. We take responsibility for keeping the engines of progress turning.

Creationism is the opposite of that. It wants us to think that we should not try to understand how the universe works. We should accept what we are told. This kind of thinking leads to stagnation and death.

But creationism is so easy. Just hand over the keys and accept the answer you are given. It’s so hard to work at finding other reasons. It’s embarrassing to be proven wrong. With creationism you don’t have to work hard, and you can’t be proven wrong. It’s a tempting to take the easy way out. After all, there are plenty of people who do. Why bother with science? Why study the methods and results of thousand upon thousands of man-years of labor when you can just read the one book and go on with your life. As a bonus, the creationism way teaches that you are really special to whoever created the universe and that they can make it so that you will live forever as long.

I for one, choose the hard path. Not just for me and my desire to learn, but also for my children. The way to build a better world for them and the billions of other humans on this planet is not to relinquish control to some deity, it’s to work together to increase humanity’s understanding and capabilities.